What Was Your Ancestor’s Property Worth?

Genealogists often find references to money in old deeds and other documents. Even census records frequently recorded estimates of a person’s real estate. The natural question is, “I wonder what that would equal in today’s dollars?” There is a web site that can answer this question.

S. Morgan Friedman’s Inflation Calculator can convert a U.S. dollar amount for any year from 1800 through 2015 into the equivalent amount, adjusted for inflation, in any other year of that range. In other words, if you find that your ancestor purchased land for $400 in 1805, the Inflation Calculator will tell you that the money he spent is equivalent to a purchase of $6371.39 in 2015.

The pre-1975 data comes from the Consumer Price Index statistics published in the Historical Statistics of the United States (USGPO, 1975). All data since then is from the annual Statistical Abstracts of the United States. You can access the Inflation Calculator at: http://www.westegg.com/inflation.

Canadians will find a similar Inflation Calculator for the years 1914 through 2016 at the Bank of Canada’s web pages at: http://www.bankofcanada.ca/rates/related/inflation-calculator/.


Catherine Renschler December 2, 2016 at 2:17 pm

These calculators are grossly inaccurate. The US government sold land for $2 per acre in 1800. The calculator gives $2 in 1800 an equivalent of $28.11 in 2015. Where can you buy an acre of land for $28.11?


    In the 1800s it was very likely. The state of Maine sold off a good part of its land for 50 cents an acre back in the 1800s, after trying for many years to get $1.00 or more an acre. Land was extremely cheap in the early days.


Calculators such as these are helpful to a point but should be used with caution, as inflation is volatile across markets. That is to say, price inflation of products, services, commodities, and real estate does not happen evenly across markets. Some items become more or less in demand over the years, and factors such as shifting production centers and international trade have a heavy influence on the degree to which inflation occurs.

For example, manufactuered clothing used to be far more expensive relative to other products than it is today. While you may spend thousands of dollars on a suit, you can as easily find one for a few hundred. The quality and place of manufacture will vary widely, and that influences prices. By contrast, a century ago, ready-made clothing was relatively expensive regardless of quality, and was often considered undesireable due to irregularities and imprecision of fit. As manufacturing has been shifted to third-world countries where near slave-labor conditions are exploited for ever-increasing business profits, quality across the board has suffered, but the expectation has also skewed toward “fast” fashion, so that the general public tends to accept lesser quality and imprecise fit in favor of low prices. Thus, it becomes difficult to estimate the true inflation within the ready-made clothing market.


Another somewhat more sophisticated “inflation adjuster” (especially for use by historians and genealogists) is MeasuringWorth.com, which is an academic nonprofit public service. The calculator adjusts old dollar amounts using three different methodologies, each of which might be more appropriate than the others in certain contexts. Moreover, the U.S. data goes back to 1774 and the service also available for the U.K. and Spain.
See: https://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/

Liked by 1 person

I have been looking for a site to convert Colonial Pounds, shillings and pence and Australian Pounds, shillings and pence [pre-February 1966] into Australian Dollars [after Feb. 1966] and also later conversion of Australian Dollars


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